Working with Instagram
Instagram is often viewed with suspicion by academics and educationalists, as a medium for the construction of “fake” or fantasy identities. It has been argued, for example, that people online are putting on a “performance,” managing their identity, and choosing how to present themselves. (Pearson claims that people can “deliberately choose to put forth identity cues or claims of self that can … widely differ from reality”. See Pearson, 2009.)
On the other hand, Nicole O'Donnell has argued that documenting lives through photography can contribute not only to the ongoing presentation, but also to the preservation of a person’s identity: "[T]hese images are revealing because social media are platforms for individuals to share personal thoughts, ideologies, beliefs, and the intricacies of daily life in a visual form”. (See O’Donnell 2018.)
As part of the “Breaking Down Barriers” project, Kala Phool worked with groups of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. The company established an Instagram platform, where participants could share their images and words (in their own language, if need be). The participants were given a series of “themes” to follow, such as: Hopes and dreams / Education / Transport / Religion / Fashion / Architecture / Food (etc.). They were also given “prompts” such as:
Do you have a religion? Do you believe in something / anything else? Have you left one behind?
Is there a space or place that when you step into, you feel connected?
What food reminds you of home?
Every photo is an expression of an individual’s feelings and attitudes; and also a means of communicating, without the need for language (so overcoming language barriers). It is a cliché, of course, that every picture tells a story; and so it can become the basis for dialogue and exchange, to foster greater understanding of other people’s “identity.”
In the case of the people that Kala Phool were working with, the photos did not simply express their identity; but rather, they reflected the liminal space they occupied, their attempt to negotiate their way between their old and new lives, and orient themselves to their new “home.”
As an extension of this work, participants could be asked to create an album of photos, on a particular theme such as: buildings that matter to you / Objects that remind you of home, and so on. An album like this, limited to, say, 10 photos, would demand the selection of images; but also, the album itself would become a form of “narrative of the self”; a way of recording people’s stories.
This work could be undertaken in the multicultural classroom (all the time, of course, making sure that students’ privacy is protected). Students could, for example, research their family backgrounds, and create albums of photos; in this way, they would learn about their own background and heritage. By sharing their findings, they could learn more about each other’s identities.
(In an article called “10 Surprising Ways to Use Instagram in the Classroom,” Hannah Hudson suggests different educational uses of the social media platform, including: showcasing student work; capturing field trip memories; and discovering ideas for writing – using photos as a story “prompt.” See www.weareteachers.com.)
You can see Indy Hunjan talking about her work on the "Track Project," in the video below.